The Los Angeles City Council tentatively approved Wednesday a hike in utility bills that could net the Department of Water and Power $56 million a year while putting financial pressure on consumers to conserve water during warm months.
The new rates--if confirmed by the council next week--call for "summer" water charges that would be 11% higher than "winter" charges. The council defined summer as the six-month period from April to September, when the peak demand is 38% higher than it is in winter.
The split rate system marks the first time the council--or any governing body in California--has gone to such lengths to institute a conservation program.
Overall, water rates will jump 4.5%. For residential customers, the average bill will rise 56 cents, from $14.36 to $14.92. Commercial customers face stiffer increases, ranging up to 5.7% for large users, according to DWP statistics.
Electrical rates--which will be at a constant level regardless of the season--will increase more. The average resident will see his electric bill jump $2.45, from $27.47 to $29.92. Bills for commercial users will balloon to 10.5% higher than the current rates.
According to DWP figures, the water rate increase will provide $8.5 million a year, while the power increase will earn the DWP another $52 million. The rates are expected to go into effect in mid-November.
The council, which voted 10-2 for the rate hikes despite widespread opposition from homeowners and business groups, blamed the increase in electrical rates on financial demands posed by new construction and continuing maintenance on the far-flung system.
"Our constituents are going to have to face up to this," Councilman Marvin Braude said.
But the increase in water rates was largely due to political demands. Local water officials have been under pressure to initiate strict conservation measures, less for the impact on water supplies than for the impact on Northern California public opinion.
Out-of-state water supplies are expected to diminish during the next few years, making Los Angeles more dependent on water from Northern California. Getting that water will be impossible without a change of heart on the part of Northern California residents, who have generally considered Los Angeles residents to be water wasters.
Massive northern opposition to shipping their water south helped kill a 1982 state ballot measure to expand the California Water Project, the immense reservoir and aqueduct system that begins in Northern California.
In the Wednesday session, Councilmen Zev Yaroslavsky and John Ferraro called the winter-summer rate change a "public relations" move.
Although the council held little discussion about the merits of the rate increases, sharp disagreement broke out over the effect the power increase would have on the utility users' tax. Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores argued that the tax, imposed as a 10% of the electric bill, should be held steady, despite the rate hike.
But the council voted down Flores' request.
A city spokesman said the tax alone will total $5 million in the first year of the rate increase.
The council did, however, approve rate limitations for so-called "lifeline" customers, those who can afford only basic electric services. Lifeline users will pay a maximum 3.5% increase if their use stays below 240 kilowatt hours of electricity each month. Usage above that level will be charged at the regular, per-kilowatt rate.